Make space. Find peace. Feel joy.

Worth repeating: Feel like writing a novel?

31 October 2014

I published the post below on October 29, 2009, when I was about to start my second novel as part of National Novel Writing Month. I did complete that novel in a month (and have yet to read it again). I also wrote one in 2004. Since my first two were five years apart, and five years has elapsed since the second one, I decided to go for it again. I have my spreadsheet ready and I’ve been thinking about plot points. On Saturday, November 1, I’ll write my first 1667 words (or more).

Intrigued? Check out NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem. for inspiration. It’s what got me started on this wacky path.

National Novel Writing Month is about to start and I’m on board. NaNoWriMo is a worldwide event where people commit to writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. (As a point of reference, Catcher in the Rye is about 50,000 words.)

I did it back in 2004, just to see if I could. That year, I wasn’t part of the online community, because I didn’t do it until December. But this year, I’m chomping at the bit to start on November 1 like everybody else.

Why am I doing it? It’s not for that challenge, since I know I can do it. This year, I just think writing a novel sounds like fun. And if I can get a crappy first draft written in November, I’ll have something to work with.

I’ve been on a binge of reading books by Jeffery Deaver. I love his books, which have great plots, great characters and are written in a clear, non-self-conscious style. I think reading his books have made me want to write one of my own.

But why in a month? I love having a deadline like this. I love the accountability. I love that by month’s end my novel will have an end. I love having a daily writing quota and knowing I’ve achieved my goal for the day.

I’ll have a victory on a daily basis. It’s a great example of breaking a big project down into small tasks and working at it on daily. It’s a great use of Mark Forster’s concept of little and often.

When I wrote my first novel (which, incidentally, I’ve read only once), I wore a special hat and wrote in a room where I didn’t usually write. (At the time, I was a professional writer.) This time, I’m knitting a special scarf that I plan to wear when I’m working on my novel, just to put me in the mood. I intend to write early in the morning, first thing, even if it means getting up extra early. I haven’t decided where I’ll do the writing, but chances are good it’ll be at my desk.

You can expect some updates here through the month of November. If you’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, leave me a comment or an email and let me know your registered name on the site. (I’m janinea.) I’ll make you my writing buddy!

Clever DIY divider for your hanging files

27 October 2014

I’m a big believer in dividing files into categories. While some folks like to file folders all together in a straight A to Z formation, I prefer to put like things together. So business files are separate from personal files, for example. Depending on the number of files you have, you might have separate categories for Health, Financial, Hobbies, etc.

When possible, I recommend using the file drawers as natural dividers, one category per drawer. But when that’s not possible, you have to figure out a way to divide the file cabinet into categories. One way is to use color. I’m not a gigantic fan of color coding files, because it means you have to have a large supply of different colored files on hand. (If you want to color code, I suggest letting the file folder label supply the color.)

Recently, I worked with a clever client, Pam Caruso, who set up her filing system between our visits. When she opened the drawer, I was wowed to see clearly delineated categories using colored hanging file folders to divide the categories.

She gave me permission to snap a photo:

Make your own file dividers to clearly identify categories

She used a YouTube video as the starting point and then enhanced it by adding labels to the spine of the file divider. In a lateral file cabinet in another part of the house, she used this method to create a half dozen easily identifiable categories per drawer. Fantastic.

Here’s that video so you can try it yourself:

Revisiting personal kanban

24 October 2014

Back in 2010, I discovered personal kanban , a system of visual task management that I used for awhile. In a nutshell, I divided a large whiteboard into three sections, Backlog, Doing, and Done. Then I’d use Post-It® notes to write down individual tasks and move them through the process.

It worked nicely for me for a few months, but the lack of portability was problematic and my tasks outgrew the Backlog section. So I switched to something else.

Since then, I’ve starting using electronic task management. At the moment I’m using TeuxDeux. (See my recent post, Getting back to basics with task management for more info on that).

Last week, I started to feel a little overwhelmed by the things I needed to get done. When that happens, I tend to avoid looking at my task list, which is obviously counterproductive.

So I decided to do a short-term, small-scale implementation of personal kanban. I took a clear clipboard from my office-supply closet and used purple Scotch Expressions Tape to divide it into three sections. I then wrote the tasks I needed to accomplish on small Post-Its (one per Post-It). I tried to keep just one task in the doing column. Before I knew it, i was moving plenty of tasks to the right-hand Done column.

Here’s a photo of the board.

Using a kanban clipboard to stay on top of tasks

I’ve become rededicated to the idea of selecting three or four tasks each night to focus on the next day. And I’m also selecting my blog post topic each night and putting it on the kanban clipboard for the next morning. Having these tasks on the clipboard allows me to easily focus on them, adding more from my TeuxDeux list as the tasks move there way to the Done section.

I see this as sort of a back up measure for the days I’m feeling overwhelmed or unable to focus on my larger task list. The fact that it’s in my face (rather than tucked away on my phone or in another tab on my browser) is very helpful right now.

I’m a fan of switching up task-management techniques when they start getting stale. Right now, this is working nicely for me!

SentrySafe giveaway winners!

20 October 2014

My giveaway for a fireproof Alarm Safe and a fireproof Guardian Storage Box from SentrySafe ended last night, and, as promised, I am announcing the winners today.

I put all the entries into a spreadsheet, assigned a number to each, and used the Random Number Generator to select the winners.

First prize went to Peg Sharp and second prize to Debbie Gerardi.

Congratulations to the winners, and thank you to all who entered! I hope that the review and giveaway caused you to think about what you would store in a protected environment. Even if you didn’t win, perhaps it will prompt you to make sure you’re keeping your important items safe from disaster.

Finding the time to feed your soul

17 October 2014

Finding time to feed your soul

I love doing genealogy research. It’s a fairly big part of my life—I blog twice weekly (most weeks) at my genealogy blog, Organize Your Family History, so I actually think about my family research quite a lot.

But I don’t actually research as often as I’d like. And that’s a shame, because researching my family history feeds my soul.

We’re all busy with the daily activities of life. Throw kids, aging parents, demanding work, needy spouses or sick pets into the mix and sometimes it feels like we don’t have any time to do those things that really nourish us.

I believe that doing those things is really important for self care. So how can we find the time?

Time management is all about managing priorities. If you put everyone’s needs before your own, all you’ll be doing is putting out fires. And that’s not good for you. So I think it’s important to figure out little pockets of time that you can set aside as “me time.” During that special time, you can do that thing that keeps you going and that feeds your soul.

How can you find some pockets of time when you’re already so busy?

  • Get up a half hour early to feed your soul
  • Drop an activity that you’re doing because you think you should, not because you want to
  • If you’re a TV watcher, have a no-TV day each week and put that time toward your desired activity
  • Find people who also do what you want to do (like a knitting group) and agree to do that activity together.
  • Block off time on your calendar for your soul-feeding activity
  • Explain to your family your need to have to time of your own and arrange for a redistribution of chores

The list could go on. Perhaps you just need to be a little creative.

If you’re saying to yourself, I can’t take time out for myself while my house is messy…that’ll have to wait until I get organized then please stop. It breaks my heart when people stop their messy homes from allowing them to live. Sure, work on your home, bit by bit (or hire someone to help you), but reward your efforts with some soul-nourishing activity.

Our lives our important and they should be as happy and fulfilling as possible. I’m a firm believer that we can take control of our time and do those things that bring fulfillment.

Can you make some time for yourself this weekend?

Making mornings more productive

15 October 2014

I don’t know about you, but if my mornings don’t go well, the rest of the day usually follows suit. I’m a morning person and I typically can get a lot done in the morning. But if I don’t, it’s hard to reboot the day and make up for it in the afternoon.

So I got to thinking today about optimal ways for me to spend my valuable morning time. And I also thought about strategies for getting right to it in the morning.

I’m a huge believer in the value of established routines. I have a morning routine of small tasks that help me maintain order. I do those things without even thinking, and they happen before I’m at my desk. It’s the next step I need to think about. What should I do after I’ve sat down at my desk?

I think I know the answer. I need to blog first thing in the morning. I try to blog four times a week: Mondays and Fridays on this blog and Tuesdays and Thursdays on my other blog, Organize Your Family History. I know I could make life easier by blogging in advance and scheduling posts, but I’ve learned that’s not really the way I roll. Most of my blog posts are posted the day they’re written, and I’m okay with that.

I know that if I get my blog writing out of the way for the day, the rest of the day goes smoother. If I don’t, I might not blog that day, depending on my client load. And it bugs me when I don’t reach my blogging goals, which has a negative effect on my day. (I’m not happy that today is Wednesday and this is my first blog post of the week.)

So how can I ensure that I get my blogging done in the morning? I can think of two things that will make it much easier:

  • Decide in advance what I’ll blog about. (Deciding what to write about is the hardest part for me.)
  • Don’t do anything else at my computer before blogging. (I’m capable of wasting a lot of time first thing in the morning fooling around on the internet.)

If I do both of these things, I’ll get my blogging done straight off and I’ll have that omnipresent task taken off my mind, freeing myself to feel great about getting stuff done the rest of the day. I know that will enhance my productivity beyond just the blogging.

My evening routine comes into play here, because it sets me up for a successful morning. I try to do three things before closing up shop every day:

  • Clear off my desktop
  • Get my inbox down to zero
  • Select a few priority tasks for the next day

One thing I could add to that evening routine is selecting my blog topic for the next day, if it’s not already planned.

This process seems very simple, yet I feel very excited that I’ve identified a way to get my blogging done and make my days go better. I’ll post again about how successful this strategy is!

Fire-proof storage: A review + giveaway

10 October 2014

I have to admit I have never been very diligent about keeping my valuable documents/belongings safe from disaster. I think part of my problem is that I don’t like to think about disasters or believe that one will befall me. (I realize that this type of head-in-the-sand thinking is ridiculous and not at all helpful.)

SentrySafe, a manufacturer of fire-proof safes, is the most prominent brand of these products that I know. So I was delighted to be contacted by them, asking me to partner up with them to spread the word about the importance of fire-proof storage. This dovetails nicely with my interest in preserving precious inherited items and keeping them safe.

SentrySafe sent me two of their newest products to try out and keep, the Alarm Safe, that helps keep documents safe from burglary, as well as fire, and the Guardian Storage Box, a water- and fire-resistant file box. You can read all the details on both products at the SentrySafe store. And here’s something exciting: SentrySafe is offering a giveaway on both these new products to readers of my blog! Just scroll to the bottom of this post to read the rules and enter.

What I love about the Alarm Safe is that I don’t have to worry about a bad guy zeroing in on the safe and just picking up the whole thing and walking away with it. The Alarm Safe comes with heavy bolts to secure the safe to the floor. Lazy bones me finds that a daunting task. What makes the Alarm Safe special is that it has an alarm on it that will go off if someone picks it up; tries to pry it open; jolts, hits or jars it; or if there are more than five attempts to enter the digital alarm code. The alarm on the safe has to be armed (like my home security system has to be set), but that is not a difficult detail to remember.

The Guardian Storage Box is a fire-safe file box that holds hanging file folders. It’s also water resistant, so if sprayed by firefighters the contents would not be damaged. I love that it is shaped to hold a large quantity papers, unlike many safes (including the Alarm Safe). I think it’s a great adjunct to the safes.

The safe and the file box arrived recently and I haven’t yet stocked them. But I have put a little thought into what I will put in them. Valuables will go into the safe and papers that no robber would want will go into the file box, where they can stay organized.

I wrote a guest post for SentrySafe’s blog about how to choose what to store in a protected environment. In it, I include these categories of items that might best be stored in a fireproof safe or storage box:

  • Truly irreplaceable and important items, like inherited items, handmade items, genealogy papers and family histories. (Or backup disks of genealogy documents that are stored electronically.) Irreplaceable childhood keepsakes (a baptismal gown or a tooth for example) or items that represent major milestones (the medal from your first marathon) fit into this category.
  • Documents that you want easy access to or would be troublesome to replace, like passports, birth certificates, vehicle titles and original social security cards
  • Items you would need immediately after a fire, like insurance documents and medications lists
  • Valuables, like jewelry, a coin collection, and cash. (Leave out your pearls, though; they’re extremely temperature sensitive and can be damaged at lower temperatures, so a fire-proof safe might not protect them.)
  • Information that would help your heirs with your estate after you pass away or if you fall ill, like your will, power of attorney, and health care directives. You can also have a notebook with account numbers and passwords, along with other pertinent information. I have filled out the “Exit Strategies workbook”: with my elderly parents and take great comfort in knowing that both their financial life and their final wishes are documented. A fire-proof safe in my parents’ home is a perfect place for that workbook—assuming I have the combination.

In short, I’m going to store those few irreplaceable things that would devastate me if they were destroyed, as well as items that would be very helpful in the event of a tragedy.

Here’s the info on the giveaway!

SentrySafe has generously offered to give one Alarm Safe and one Guardian Storage Box to two lucky readers of this blog. To enter, post a comment below about what you would store in the Alarm Safe or Guardian File Box. After you’ve entered with a comment, you may get additional entries by tweeting about the giveaway (be sure and use @janinea in the tweet, so that I see it) and/or writing on the wall or commenting at the Peace of Mind Organizing Facebook page. The contest ends at 11 pm, central time, on Sunday, October 20. I’ll select the winners at random and announce their names on Monday, October 21.

The giveaway is over and the winners selected. Their names are announced here. Congrats to the winners!

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